7. Flood at Bruinen
The little pony snorted, and broke out of a trot and into a canter. Quickly, he moved into place between and just behind the two white horses. They had stopped to give the beasts some water and to rest both the animals and themselves. Aragorn did not even have to hold Bill's lead line - the clever pony understood to stay beside him and match his pace. The lead was loosely looped over the pack frame.
Aragorn looked ahead to the other horses. On the left was Asfaloth in a slow, smooth canter next to Glorfindel. Frodo sat on him, with Sam behind him, clinging tightly to his waist. To the other side was Dragonheart, matching Asfaloth's gait perfectly, Pippin held in place by Merry, Laurë running lightly to the horse's off shoulder. Almost as soon as Glorfindel had appeared in the evening two days ago, the elf had said to put the hobbits up on the horses and then run beside them. This way they covered a great deal of ground as quickly as possible, and they were almost to the Ford.
Aragorn had not slept the night Laurë had said the ring verse at the fire. He had let out a shout, too, when she had reached out for Frodo, and had for one moment thought she was going to seize him and the Ring. The Ranger slipped a step on a rough spot in the Road and mumbled a small curse a bit more vehemently than the slip deserved. Why had he not stopped the talk of the Ring? It had been so startling at first, when it became clear she knew something, he had let her go on, hoping she would let slip how it was she knew such a thing, giving clues to where she was from, who she was.
When she moved towards Frodo, however, he should have stopped that. She had waved him off, and he stood still. His own feet had not wanted to listen to him. Aragorn shook his head a bit at the memory. I was too trusting, not wanting the think Laurë would harm the hobbits. She had been tending Frodo so carefully all the days since Amon Sûl, he chastised himself. But she didn't hurt him, another part of him replied, she scared you all a bit, but you were right - she wouldn't hurt the hobbits. Your feet knew better than you did. She did not say anything that was untrue, did she? He shook his head again to be rid of this nagging thought.
He had understood her questions about Bilbo, and had burned with sympathetic indignation at the accusation hidden within them. However, if she knew the Ring well enough to know that it could corrupt a heart, the coincidence of Bilbo's disappearance and Frodo's possession of the Ring had to be regarded with suspicion. He remembered standing guard over Gandalf as the wizard questioned Gollum, hearing the twisted creature tell the story of Déagol and Sméagol. Aragorn shuddered at the memory and said a quick prayer of thanks that Bilbo and Frodo had avoided that fate.
He had stood firm that he would not split up their company. Laurë had not liked that decision and had threatened to simply take Frodo herself if he would not. He countered that they would have to take to the Road anyhow sometime tomorrow. If the Riders threatened, he and the others would try to engage them while she would take Frodo and run. She did not seem very happy with that, but agreed to his plan. He had worried that she would try to slip out of camp with Frodo anyway, and so had kept watch all night.
When Glorfindel had appeared the following evening, she had tried to convince him to take Frodo and ride ahead. The elf had considered it a long moment, looking up at Frodo who had already been placed on Asfaloth's back. He shook his head.
'No, my Lady. I agree with the Dúnadan. Your plan has merit, but you know not the ways of the Road between here and the Ford. There are many dangerous places yet. If we are set upon, then it is best that we are together. We must husband both our strength and that of the horses, for I deem we may yet have a perilous race near the end. It will not do to wear them down before then. Let us not argue, but make haste for Imladris.'
Laurë had begun to open her mouth again to protest, then nodded curtly and helped to take the contents of their packs and stow it securely upon Bill. Glorfindel boosted Sam up behind Frodo, and put Merry and Pippin into place on Dragonheart while Aragorn helped with the packs. At a word from the elf, Asfaloth set out, and the other horse followed. Glorfindel watched the hobbits and kept increasing the pace until they were going as fast as they could without exhausting the small folk. That was still too slow a pace for the elf's liking.
Aragorn knew Laurë was better able to defend herself against the Riders than the hobbits, but had worried that she would not be able to run all day any better than the hobbits could do. If she had started to falter, he was going to pull Pippin off of Dragonheart and put him on Bill, and insist Laurë ride the warhorse. He ruefully considered that she appeared less tired than himself after two day's and a night's worth of running with only a few brief stops for rest and sleep. Even so, both of them were starting to stumble and slow in their steps.
Last night, when Laurë and the hobbits had slept, Aragorn stayed awake long enough to talk to Glorfindel of what had transpired since Bree. The elf lord listened quietly, asking nothing at first. When Aragorn concluded, Glorfindel pondered what had, and had not, been said.
'She just appeared from behind a hill,' the elf said, softly.
'Do you believe that?'
'I am not certain what I believe. She knew where we were. She tracked us as a Ranger would do, and could explain how she did so.'
'Hmm.' Glorfindel sounded mildly curious. He turned his back on their sleeping companions and scanned the land around them. Aragorn remained watching the others, seeing if they woke and listened. 'Have you determined where she is from?'
'No, though I have a few suspicions. She is not of the North, no matter how well she was able to track us.'
'She would have been noted, yes. So of the south. Or of the east? There are horselords left upon the plains of Rhovanion.'
'Yes, but why would she come up the Greenway? The way from Rhovanion is the Dwarf Road.'
'From Gondor, then.'
Aragorn shook his head a little, as much to chase away weariness as to disagree. 'There is none such as this in Gondor, nor in Rohan, despite the horse. She would have been in Minas Tirith, and would have been espied and reported upon.'
'Is she a spy?'
'What do you perceive?'
The two changed positions, Aragorn watching for danger, Glorfindel observing the others. After a long while, the elf haltingly said, 'A tree. A pale green cloak of leaves upon a weathered, gnarled tree. Golden fruit, like apples, perhaps, a few. There are some pale blooms.' He fell silent again, then said, 'Light does not shine upon the tree, though I do not see Shadow. It is in twilight. What is it that you suspect?'
Aragorn wished to sleep. Glorfindel's words had made him almost certain he had guessed correctly, and now he needed to rest.
'It is all suspicion, but I believe her from Umbar.' Glorfindel turned sharply to face Aragorn, face alight with questions. 'You know that there have always been a few in that land who are loyal to the north. The Faithful they call themselves, in honor of their ancestors. They live in secrecy and danger, involving themselves in high counsels and dark plans. They can say little, for fear of unmasking themselves with knowledge that could be traced back to them. Every few generations, they will send a messenger north with all of their knowledge.'
'And this is such a one?'
'I cannot tell. Not since before the Great Plague has a messenger traveled further than Gondor.'
'Why a maid?'
'They have no men to spare. The messenger before last, during Belecthor's reign, was such.'
'What is there to make you think this is a messenger?'
'Her speech has a southern tinge. The harness on the horse is Haradic. She is not unnerved by the presence of the Enemy's servants. She calls Gandalf "Mithrandir" which is how they would call him. She knows what a Ranger is, and of the Star of the North. No one of these convinces, indeed all of them together fails to convince, but all together make little sense except with such an explanation.'
'Or that she is of the Enemy, to deceive us in just such a manner.'
Aragorn sighed. 'Or that. As I said, I suspect, I am not convinced. It will wait until we reach safety.' Glorfindel laid a comforting hand on Aragorn's shoulder.
'And that is task enough for us to worry about now, Estel. She strikes me not as an enemy, though I do not think I would presume so far as to name her friend. Rest you now so that you may have the strength for us to reach Imladris. Lord Elrond will appreciate this fine mystery you bring!' Aragorn nodded and found a place near the hobbits. Too soon, the elf was shaking them all awake, urging them to eat their morning meal quickly so that they could be on their way.
Aragorn and Laurë had both given over all of their meal to the hobbits. Aragorn knew that she had not eaten at their last meal either, giving her share to the hobbits. He had taken only a heel of stale bread himself the day before, and also pressed food upon their companions. They had to make the Ford today, or they would be of no use to the little ones. They had no food left, so had stopped only a short while for rest and water at noontime. Glorfindel had rued even that short delay, and urged them on.
They entered a deep cut in a bank lined with red stone. The horses increased their speed as they passed down the path under the trees. He felt his heart gladden a bit knowing the Ford drew near. By nightfall, they should be at Rivendell. The thought put extra strength in his flagging limbs. Safety from the Riders, food and rest, and some certain answers as to who and what his traveling companion was about. He clucked to Bill again, encouraging the little pony to pick up the pace and keep up with the other horses, and Bill nickered in answer.
They had left the cut and entered onto the flat plain that lead to the Ford, moving steadily. Suddenly, Dragonheart came to a stop, and whirled around facing back up the Road. His head was high and his nostrils flared widely. Asfaloth also halted and turned, and Laurë and Glorfindel met between the steeds. Aragorn ran over to them, Bill trailing. Pippin was clutching Dragonheart's mane tightly as the horse curveted and snorted. The horse then let out a fierce neigh and started to rear up. Merry yelled 'Whoa!' while Pippin squealed in fear. Then they all heard the wind rushing through the tunnel in the trees.
Glorfindel shouted for them to run. Laurë whistled sharply, and Dragonheart stopped rearing. She lunged to Asfaloth, and yanked Sam out of the saddle from behind Frodo. She had to slap at Sam's hands to make him let of his master and be pulled from the horse. As Laurë dropped Sam unceremoniously on the ground, Glorfindel called to Asfaloth and the Elven steed bolted towards the Ford.
Aragorn saw Dragonheart start to shift his feet and knew he would throw Merry and Pippin off his back in a moment. He grabbed Merry just as Laurë turned around and took hold of Pippin, and they heaved the two frightened hobbits to the ground.
'Off the Road! Out of the way!' shouted Glorfindel and Aragorn pushed the hobbits to side, telling Sam to take Bill. As he looked back up the Road, he saw five Black Riders halted at the top of the hill, robes swaying in the breeze of their passage, evil running down from them in cold waves, surging over the company, threatening to freeze them in the warm afternoon sun.
Aragorn turned away from them, expecting to see Frodo nearing the Ford, and was dismayed to see that he had checked Asfaloth only a few dozen yards away, and was looking back at them. Why isn't he running? Aragorn hoped Frodo was not thinking of riding back, knowing how reluctant the hobbit was to leave them in danger. He started shouting at Frodo to run.
Glorfindel shouted commands to Asfaloth, and the elf-horse ignored Frodo's attempts to restrain him and fled. Dragonheart let out a deafening scream, rearing high and beating the air with his fore feet, challenging the Riders to battle. The Black Riders screamed defiance back at the warhorse, and charged down the slope.
Laurë let out another loud whistle, high and long. Dragonheart dropped his fore feet to the ground and lunged forward. She leaped and grabbed his mane, then ran beside him a few steps before using his momentum to bounce off the ground and up into the saddle. She did not even bother to search for the stirrups, leaning low over his neck and grabbing the reins.
Aragorn watched in astonishment as Dragonheart raced away from the five as though they were standing still. Within a few seconds, the warhorse had caught up with the fleeing Asfaloth and had fallen into stride beside him on his left hand. The five charged past where the company stood, following the two white horses but unable to gain on them. The icy chill of their passing knocked down the hobbits, and Aragorn dropped to one knee. Glorfindel staggered, but kept his feet.
As soon as the five had passed, Glorfindel called to the others to follow, and started running as fast as he could after the horsemen. Aragorn followed, willing his exhausted legs to keep moving. Glorfindel pulled away from him as easily as Dragonheart had outrun the Black Riders. Bill ran past him, whinnying excitedly, but even he could not catch Glorfindel.
Aragorn let out a cry of dismay as they all heard another wail from the Riders, but this time far ahead and to the left. The remaining four Riders broke from cover ahead on the Road, riding fast. Two were charging directly at Frodo and Laurë while the other two had angled towards the Ford itself, seeking to catch the fleeing pair between them. The Ranger could not take his eyes off of the deadly race across the plain. Behind him he could hear the hobbits cheering on the two as they ran, Merry shouting 'Run! Run! Run!' as loud as he could, Sam and Pippin simply yelling, words beyond them.
As Asfaloth and Dragonheart neared the two closest Riders, Laurë sat up on her steed and flung something at them. A flare of flame and smoke burst up directly before the feet of the oncoming black horses. They squealed and skidded to a halt, thudding into each other and nearly unseating one of the Riders. The five behind let out another wail, menacing and furious. Aragorn shouted with glee - Laurë had used her fire powder to frighten the Rider's horses and blind the Riders themselves.
The two had their horses back under control and joined the five to continue the pursuit, but they had lost too much ground to catch the white horses before they could reach the Ford. They started to draw up their steeds, and the rest of the company gained on them. By this time, they were a few hundred yards from the Ford. Aragorn could see the waters of it. Glorfindel had slowed down and waited for him to catch up. He grabbed the Ranger's shoulder and shouted at him that they had to make a fire, but Aragorn was not listening.
There remained two Riders ahead of the fleeing pair. These Riders were almost in between the white horses and the Ford, running across the ground next to the Road. Aragorn cried out in anger and fear. There was no way that Frodo and Laurë could reach the Ford before these last two Riders caught them. He thought of Laurë's bright sword and wondered if it would be of any use against these undead creatures. The other Riders spread out in a curving line, preventing any retreat and bearing down on the doomed pair.
Laurë had leaned back down over Dragonheart's neck after throwing her fire powder at the Riders. He had caught up with Asfaloth, and now was running slightly ahead of the other horse and to the left, closest to the oncoming two. Asfaloth kept racing straight towards the Ford, feet flashing, turning neither left nor right. The two Riders and the two companions were almost upon the banks of the Ford, where the grass had turned to dirt and the ground was soft from the river. The horses' hooves were throwing up great clods of dirt and small rocks. Aragorn was glad Laurë was shielding Frodo from the Riders, then watched in horror as she turned her steed more sharply to the left and rode directly at the two.
All of the companions yelled as Dragonheart charged the Riders. He did not swerve or falter; if anything, he increased his speed. Aragorn watched him get almost up to them, then duck and drop his head to the side, throw out his left shoulder, and crash directly into the shoulder of the closest Rider's horse.
Dragonheart knocked the first horse completely off his feet, then careened into the second horse's side, bringing that horse down as well, but falling to his knees and skidding across the ground just beyond the second horse. The Riders were flung to the ground, their robes flying about as they were hurled off their horses, their own shrieking cries mixing with those of the flailing steeds.
Frodo and Asfaloth raced on, ignoring the thrashing, screaming, struggling tangle of horse and Ringwraith to their left, and plunged into the river, sending up great sprays of water. They waded through the river and ran up the slope on the far side.
The moment before Dragonheart had crashed into the first horse, Aragorn saw Laurë throw herself out of her saddle to the right, towards the Road, and hit the ground, rolling as she landed. She was on her feet as soon as she had stopped rolling, and ran unsteadily towards the river. The seven who remained horsed wailed at the sight of their downed fellows, and urged their horses on, trying to ride down the unhorsed companion.
Laurë whistled sharply twice, and Dragonheart surged to his feet, blood running down his shoulder and fore legs, obviously having trouble with a rear leg. He turned and staggered after her, stumbling on the rocks of the river bed as he hit the water. She grabbed at the saddle as he caught up with her, and let him pull her along through the swiftly running current. They reached the far bank and lurched up the hillside towards Frodo. Once there, she turned and pulled her sword. It blazed white even in the sun. Dragonheart belled a challenge to the oncoming horsemen.
Aragorn finally heard Glorfindel's shouts that they must make a fire, that a flood was coming. He turned and ran over to a hollow beside the Road, and began kindling a fire.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.